LAS VEGAS One night after a couple of newcomers to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo stole the spotlight, world champions and longtime veterans took center stage in second-round action Saturday in front of a packed house of 17,626 in the Thomas & Mack Center.
Four world champions took the victory lap Saturday, highlighted by six-time and reigning world titlist tie-down roper Fred Whitfield of Hockley, Texas. Whitfield, who tied for second place on Friday, recorded a round-winning time of 7.7 seconds Saturday, extending his lead atop the world standings to more than $22,000 as he seeks his fourth world tie-down roping title in the last five years.
"It is a long ways from over," Whitfield said. "I like my position now. They don't give gold buckles away until the 14th. If I continue to rope the way I did in the first two rounds, things should play out the way I want them to."
The Wrangler NFR, offering a purse of $5 million, is professional rodeo's premier rodeo. World champions will be crowned at the end of the 10-round event on Dec. 14.
Action continues Sunday with Round 3 at 7 p.m. (PST).
Bareback rider Clint Corey of Powell Butte, Ore., made his triumphant return to Las Vegas after having his 17-year Wrangler NFR streak broken in 2002. On Saturday, the 42-year old and 1991 world champion wowed the crowd with an 86.5-point ride on Calgary Stampede's French Wake.
"It feels wonderful (to be back)," Corey said. "It was such a disappointment last year after not making it. It made me try a little harder this year and go to a few more rodeos. I'm glad it worked out, and I'm glad I'm back."
Not long after Corey's ride, five-time world saddle bronc riding champion Dan Mortensen of Billings, Mont., scored 90 points on Harry Vold's Smokeless Big Valley. Mortensen, trying to tie the immortal Casey Tibbs for the most event world titles, made up some ground Saturday but still remains $23,000 behind reigning saddle bronc champion Glen O'Neill of Didsbury, Alberta.
Bull rider Terry Don West of Henryetta, Okla., hasn't been quite the same since a frightening accident left him unconscious and with an injured shoulder on Sept. 27 at the Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge in Omaha, Neb. On Saturday, he made his first qualified ride since, a thrilling 95-point ride on O'Malley's Snake Eater. In the process, he was able to keep challenger Mike Moore at bay. With eight rounds remaining, West leads Moore by $37,000.
The night wasn't just reserved for world champions.
Rod Lyman of Victor, Mont., in his 16th Wrangler NFR, certainly knows his craft. The likeable cowboy has won just about everything in rodeo except claim a gold buckle. After placing on Friday, he went a step further by winning the round with a time of 3.7 seconds. In two days, he has pocketed an event-best $22,967 and has climbed eight spots to sixth place in the world standings.
For the second night in a row, a pair of team ropers tied for the round victory. On Saturday, Wrangler NFR veterans Daniel Green of Oakdale, Calif., and Kory Koontz of Sudan, Texas, started the round with a 4.4-second run, then Shain Sproul of Arlee, Mont., and Wrangler NFR rookie Boogie Ray of Mabank, Texas, matched it later.
Two-time Wrangler NFR barrel racer Jolee Lauteret of Kingman, Ariz., claimed the second-round victory in 13.78 seconds, the fastest round of the rodeo.